Lowered Expectations – How Low Can Your Laptop Go?

[An Interop Aside: I visited with a couple of vendors at Interop who are sending some gear for me to explore. I’m holding off on their coverage until that happens, although another summary post may be forthcoming.]

I’m a big laptop fan. Afficionado, not cooler, mind you. It’s a problem, especially since my recent rebuild acquisitions and components are blocking the fireplace at the moment.

There’s been a disturbing trend over the last couple of years, whereby laptop manufacturers decide to move more toward the netbook specifications for memory (and often storage), rather than to the state of the art for the current generation of laptop processors. I was commiserating with my friend John Obeto about this recently.

For a couple of months now, you’ve been able to order a Dell Precision 7000-series laptop with 64GB of RAM. That’s twice as much as many desktops can handle today. And even if you don’t have room for four DIMM slots in your laptop design, DDR4 16GB SODIMMs are very affordable and readily available even at retail. So there’s really no reason for a 13″ or larger laptop to have an 8GB limit.

But it is the way of the world, for most lightweight laptops these days. Even Dell’s remarkable XPS 13 9343 maxed at 8GB – the 9350 model this year has a 16GB option but it’s online order only (and in the $2000 range as I recall). Continue reading

A word on PoHo coverage for 2016

Greetings, readers.

As you may have noticed, rsts11 has had limited content over the past year. Day Job(tm) has taken precedence, and while we’ve been creating content, it’s been for the Day Job.

On the one hand, we’ve managed to completely avoid conflicts of interest between rsts11 and the Day Job, but there’s a substantial backlog to come out over the upcoming months, as well as some new industry observations and technology updates.

There are also a couple of eBooks in the works that should be available by early summer. We’ll have one on big data and one on meeting hygiene, and possibly some more.

Feel free to follow me personally on @gallifreyan and the blog update feed at @rsts11 on Twitter, and subscribe to get the latest updates here. If there are topics I’ve mentioned through social media or at events that you’d like to read more about, feel free to make suggestions in the comments here.

What planet are we on? (The Third) — the RSTS11 Interop preview

Greetings from Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. For the third year, with apologies to Men Without Hats, I’m back in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for Interop. 

This week, I’m actually a man without hats as well. My Big Data Safari hat is in my home office, and my virtual Cisco ears are back at home as well, next to the VPN router that was powered down before I headed for the airport. (Alas, after moving from Disney to Cisco, I lost the theme park discounts and the epic mascot reference.)

What are you up to at Interop this year, Robert?

So why am I back at Interop, when a dozen conference calls a day could have been in the cards for me this week? 

My readers, my fans, and my groupie all know that I’ve been a fan of the Psycho Overkill Home Office (POHO) for quite a while, going back to when I had a 19-server, 5-architecture environment with a 3-vendor network in my spare bedroom. Today it’s about 12 servers, all x64 (Shuttle, Intel, Cisco, Supermicro, Dell, and maybe another secret brand or two), and technically a 5-vendor network, but the idea is similar enough.

And having built a couple of startups up from the under-the-desk model to a scalable, sustainable production-grade infrastructure, the overkill in my home office and labs has led to efficient and effective environments in my workplaces. 

This week I’m taking a break from my usual big data evangelism and the identity aspects of working for a huge multinational juggernaut. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest; earlier this month I attended my first event in 10 months as a non-booth-babe, and now I’m getting to focus on my more traditional interests. 

What’s on the agenda this week?

I’m looking forward to return visits to the folks at Sandisk, Opengear, and Cradlepoint. Cradlepoint was the first interview I did two years ago at Interop 2013, and I’ve been a customer on my own for many years; Opengear was a presenter at Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live 2013; and I last talked with Sandisk at Storage Field Day 5 about a year ago, as well as having been a Fusion-io customer at a previous job. 

I have a couple of other meeting requests out, so we may hear from a couple of other POHO/SOHO/ROBO/lab staples, and I’ll at least be dropping by their booths in the Interop Expo to see what’s new. 

While I’m only recording this week for notetaking convenience, I am starting to ponder what to do about the podcast I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. So maybe I can pull in some interesting people from time to time… last night’s conversation over Burger Bar shakes with Chris Wahl and Howard Marks probably would have been fodder for several podcasts alone (and I don’t think any of us even had any alcohol!).

And seeing as a number of my friends are presenting this year, including Chris and Howard, I’ll be trying to make my way to their sessions (although there’s a LOT of overlap, and triple-booking isn’t uncommon… there’s a lot more than the Expo floor to experience at Interop, as always).

So where do we go from here?

If you’re at Interop, who are you looking forward to seeing/hearing/heckling/buying drinks for? (And if you’d like to meet up, catch me on Twitter at @gallifreyan.) If not, check out the exhibitor list at interop.com/lasvegas and let me know who you are curious about on that list. 

New hardware thoughts for home labs (Winter 2013)

It’s been almost two years since I wrote my first home lab post, on the occasion of rolling a Shuttle SH67H3 VMware server. Since then, I’ve rambled on Twitter about a lot of other options, and figured I would bring some of them to your more-easily-searched-for attention.

I will update this post in the near future – most recent update 2013-12-12 – so you can look (probably at the bottom) for new details and references.

Disclosure: I’m not paid or coerced to promote the items in this post. Anything I own below was bought with my own money. Most of it probably will not blend. Any references to vendors or manufacturers are based on my experience and not any consideration from the company.

Many of the links are to Amazon.com, and if you buy through them, I get a small commission credit to spend on more coffee gear or some of the same things. I appreciate your support and suggestions.

My lab cluster today

I recently bought two batches of rackmount servers at absurd prices. We’re talking less-than-the-memory-was-worth prices. For now, I have an NEC Express 5800/120Rh-1 (dual E5405/16GB) and a HP DL365 G1 (dual-core Opteron 2214HE/16GB) running 5.5. vCenter Server is running on my NUC i3 box out of convenience. When I get some more PC2-5300F RAM, I’ll switch out that Opteron for another Xeon to get a bit more consistency.

The downside to this environment is that it’s noisy and a bit power-hungry. At rest, the two servers use about 400W. So until I upgrade the UPS, I’m a bit stuck on that level of server.

But the upside is that the two servers as configured cost less than I spend on coffee in a month at home. And my lab is in a location that isn’t as sensitive to power load or noise as my home office might be.

Using a Dell Poweredge C6100 for dense rackmount computing

There are a lot of 1u and 2u rackmount servers out there on Craigslist, eBay, Weird Stuff, and such venues. I’ve picked up various HP boxes for chump change and scrounged for memory, so it is an option. You can probably get a dual socket 8-core server (DL160, DL360, DL365, DL380, DL385) with some memory and drive trays for under $100 until you run out of power outlets. If your tolerance for power draw and noise allow, that’s definitely a cost-effective way to go.


There are also a lot of Dell C6100 “blade” servers (pictured above) out there as well. These are 2u enclosures with up to 4 two-socket nodes. Each blade can take 12 DIMMs (up to 192GB), two quad or hex core Xeon processors, and 3 LFF 3.5 drives or 6 SFF 2.5 drives (SATA, SAS, SSD). And from what I’ve read, you can run four dual-L5420 blades at about 300W.

I’m seeing these priced at around $750 for a two-L5520-node config, or a four-L5420-node config, with minimal RAM. You can find a four-L5520-node config for around $1k, or you can add extra nodes later. ServeTheHome has a thread on community update findings, including fan improvements and internal USB.

I don’t know what the noise level is out of the box, but hopefully one of my readers can chime in. Or I may pick one up next month and come back with an update.

Ye Olde HP Proliant Microserver… And Ye Newe Microserver

I have a Proliant Microserver N40L in my environment. It, and its siblings N36L and N54L, are classic home lab servers, with secret BIOS tweaks and undocumented memory upgrades and a $200-300 price tag. Much like the NUC, they are, but perhaps a bit less processing power and a lot more expandability.

Microserver Gen 8

Well, HP released their Microserver Gen 8 this summer, with two dual-core Pentium processor options. One option has a G1610T 2.3GHz processor, and the other has a G2020T 2.5Ghz processor; there’s even a stackable 8-port switch to match. You still get four non-hot-plug SATA bays; the new ones offer a glitzier front door and a laptop-size optical drive bay. You also get dual gigabit Ethernet and a dedicated iLo port.

The price has gone up with the specs; you’re looking at $450-500 for the base 2GB/250GB system, plus your upgrades, so probably $700 with 16GB of RAM.

Be sure not to purchase the Windows Server bundles (unless you’re into that sort of thing). The Microserver Gen 8 shows up in bundles between $700-1200 with various Windows licenses included, and if you’re throwing your own OS on afterward, there’s no reason to shell out the extra money.

NUC NUC… not again…

Intel has added new Next Unit of Computing (NUC) models to their line, with 4th generation i3/i5 processors. There’s an i3-4010U model and an i5-4250U model available. Perhaps obviously, they’re no longer fanless or silent, but probably quieter than the options above.

Wilson Canyon NUC with USB

You still need to add your power cable, some laptop memory (8GB or 16GB depending), an mSATA module if you want internal storage, and a flash drive to boot from. So you’re probably looking at about $600 for a complete system, give or take. But if space is of an essence, and your workloads can handle 16GB dual core modules, this is a great option.

As an aside, Intel has 4th generation NUCs with support for an internal 2.5″ drive. These don’t seem to be as commonly available, but it’s something to watch for if you need more internal storage.

A surprising contender – Dell’s Inspiron 660 desktop

I was having an exchange on Twitter with someone looking for options with Gen 3 PCI Express for virtualization lab use. He ended up getting an Inspiron 660 desktop, which has more convenient expansion options than pretty much everything above.

The i5-3340 model with 8GB of RAM comes in under $600 on Amazon (you can buy it directly from Dell but might get quicker delivery from Amazon). You should be able to load it up with 16GB of RAM, and you can get 4x and 6x SATA (and 4x SAS) drive bay inserts to get dense 2.5″ drive deployments. Probably won’t need that DVD burner on a hypervisor platform, will you?

What else can I read about home lab options?

I’m glad you asked. One thing that pushed me to write this post was Chris Wahl’s update on his home lab. He’s moving to Haswell, and building out a well-optimized lab. He’s an avid advocate of remote management, so definitely take a look at his board selection if you need remote control of your server.

Simon Seagrave at TechHead has a lengthy write-up on the Microserver Gen 8 that’s worth a look if you’re leaning that way.

2013-12-12: Erik Bussink has built a compact lab with the Shuttle XH61V that finds a happy medium between my Shuttle and NUC builds.

2013-12-12: A friend on Facebook reported in with Benjamin Bryan’s blog about installing a Xeon E3 in the HP Microserver Gen 8. This may be the best reason to go with the low-end G1610T model.

2014-01-14: Greg Schulz (@storageio on Twitter) has a new post today on some of his recent discoveries and acquisitions. Check out Dell Inspiron 660 i660, Virtual Server Diamond in the rough? for a surprising choice for virtualization.

If you’ve written a blog post about sub-$1k home lab servers, feel free to let me know and I’ll try to get you added to this list. I’m happy to exchange links and spread the joy of home lab adventures.

A quick word on VAAI and FreeNAS/TrueNAS

[I have a lot of stuff in my head to tell you all about, but I also have a thousand square feet of inventory and storage to move an average of two miles this weekend… so keep an eye out for more lengthy posts coming later in the month. ]

I’m helping a friend’s startup get some infrastructure built, and one of the things I’m looking at is shoring up their VMware environment. They’re not ready for any of the common sub-six-letter names that usually come up for a vSphere storage platform yet… even a Celerra is overkill for five developers, I’d have to say.

So I was looking into VAAI support on the TrueNAS appliances from iXsystems (and of course FreeNAS itself). The first three search results I found were actually this blog, some cached twitter roll comments where I said I didn’t know if TrueNAS/FreeNAS supported VAAI.


Well, I got it on good authority this afternoon that VAAI support is in the plans for FreeNAS over at iXsystems. There’s no current date for when it will be released, but they’ve jumped through a number of flaming hoops already to get ready, and will be keeping me (and you all by extension) up to date on progress.

For those of you using FreeNAS in your home lab, this probably won’t stop you from using it as shared storage for your VMware lab environment, or anything else for that matter. But if you’re considering TrueNAS for VMware storage, or need the full-on VAAI feature set, this will make things smoother in the foreseeable future.

And an unsolicited and uncompensated plug here (although if they want help testing a FreeNAS Mini Plus, they know where to find me)…

iXsystems are a hardware vendor who are a good friend to open source. They’re probably best known for their support of FreeBSD and FreeNAS (and Jordan Hubbard is joining them as new CTO this month), but they also sponsor Slackware, and make some cool storage appliances as well as a line of servers that come with open software history and support behind them. They’ve long been a friend of BayLISA, the Silicon Valley sysadmin group I’m involved with, as well as the Bay Area FreeBSD User Group and other organizations. Check them out if you’re looking for servers, workstations, or software.

Now back to moving… why did I need a Centillion 100 again? Anybody?

[PS: Welcome to all of you who followed iXsystems over here to my blog. For full disclosure, I am currently president of BayLISA, the Silicon Valley system administration user group, but this stuff is mostly written as Robert Novak, blogger, rather than Robert Novak, BayLISA cheerleader-in-chief.]